Vanitas vanitatum

About the composition


Vanitas vanitatum is inspired by the painting Vanitas Still Life with Portrait of a

Young Painter by David Bailly. This work is part of the collection of Museum De

Lakenhal in Leiden, the Netherlands and forms the centrepiece of the exhibition

David Bailly - Time, Death and Vanity (10 March to 2 July 2023).

The three movements of this composition are inspired by different elements of the painting. The first movement 'Lady in grisaille’ is a musical representation of the ghost-like depiction of a woman in the background of the painting. The music

expresses the mystery surrounding this figure: Who is this she? And why is she

almost invisible?


Another mystery is the starting point for the second movement. A young painter

has been depicted by Bailly. Although it is not known for sure who this person is, I like to follow the interpretation that this is a younger version of Bailly. This younger Bailly is holding a portrait of the older Bailly. By depicting himself twice at different ages, Bailly is playing a game with the spectator, and perhaps with himself. The second movement, called ‘The painter and his self-portraits’, forms a playful pizzicato interplay between violin and viola.


The last movement ‘Vita brevis’ expresses the themes of transience and mortality

that are so abundantly present in the painting. The music takes a sudden turn

halfway through the movement: if life is short, it is better to enjoy it to the fullest

and try to create beautiful things.

This composition and the accompanying audio-visual recording were made possible in part thanks to Ducth Composers NOW, Buma Cultuur and the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.



Year of composition:




9 min.



violin and viola







Tosca Opdam, violin and Georgy Kovalev, viola

 Tosca Opdam, violin and Iteke Wijbenga, viola

Vanitas Still Life with Portrait of a  Young Painter by David Bailly
Vanitas Still Life with Portrait of a Young Painter by David Bailly